Mayor Jay B. Price, the oldest member of the City Council and the longest-serving elected official in Los Angeles County, died last week of heart failure nearly two weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 78.
"The man was a giant," said his son, John. "It's the end of an era not only because he was my father, but because of his skill as an administrator, his knowledge of public policy and his dedication to all the people of Bell. He was the city of Bell."
Price was instrumental three decades ago in plans to annex the unincorporated area of the former Cheli Army supply depot northeast of the Long Beach Freeway. Part of the land has since been developed commercially, providing revenue for the city.
Price also played a key role in the city acquiring the James George Bell House, a Victorian-era home owned by the family for which the city is named. The house has been moved to the City Hall grounds and will become a museum.
Price was hospitalized Feb. 16 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower for treatment of gangrene, which doctors said was related to diabetes. Surgeons amputated the toes of his right foot. Price suffered a stroke, which doctors said was unrelated to the surgery, after being moved to the Alamitos Belmont Rehabilitation Hospital in Long Beach on March 12. He was moved back to Kaiser Permanente the next day.
A native of Los Angeles who was raised in Pomona, Price moved to Bell in 1938 and was elected to the City Council in 1958. Former County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who served 40 years in his post, was the only elected official in the county to serve a longer consecutive period.
A Compton Community College graduate, Price also served 19 years on the Southern California Rapid Transit District board of directors. He was a former officer with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Residents said Price spent 40 years compiling a genealogy of his family that dated more than 1,200 years, with a copy on hand in the Library of Congress. As a member of the Los Angeles County Regional Library Council, he was active in efforts to expand library services and instrumental in getting an oral history of the city produced.
"He had a great sense of history in his outlook on life," said Mayor Pro Tem Ray Johnson, who served 13 years on the council with Price. "He did a lot of research and I think he looked at the library as a real resource, not just for what he was interested in but for young people."
Johnson automatically assumed the mayoral post upon Price's death. The City Council has 30 days to appoint a successor to serve the remainder of Price's term, which ends in April, 1994. If no one is chosen, a special election must be held by November, said John Bramble, Bell's chief administrative officer. Johnson said the council will probably take action at its April 5 meeting.
The vacant seat could open the way for the city's first Latino council member. All of the council members are Anglo, even though 86% of the city's 34,365 residents are Latino, according to the 1990 U.S. Census.
Price, whose wife, Gertrude, died of a stroke in June, is survived by two brothers, Robert, 70, of Santa Monica, and Dale, 72, of Paradise, Calif.; and three children, John, 44, of Bell, Nancy, 40, of Salem, Ore., and William, 51, of Ephrata, Wash.